In about ten days, Russia went from an authoritarian regime to an autocracy. Moscow on Friday blocked Facebook, restricted access to Twitter and cracked down on the media, introducing heavy prison terms for spreading “false information about the military” amid an invasion of Ukraine.
The measures taken strengthen the arsenal of the authorities to control the account they give to the Russian population of the invasion of Ukraine, presented as a limited operation aimed at protecting Russian-speaking Ukrainians from “genocide”.
An amendment introduces various penalties of up to 15 years in prison for spreading information aimed at “discrediting” the Russian armed forces. A second provides sanctions for “calls to impose sanctions on Russia,” which faces harsh Western retaliatory measures for its invasion of Ukraine.
These texts, which apply both to the media and to Russian and foreign individuals, entered into force after the approval by the Russian Parliament and the ratification by President Vladimir Putin late in the evening.
Foreign media pack their bags
The independent Russian newspaper Novaïa Gazeta said he was “forced to remove a lot of content” to avoid sanctions, but wanted to “keep working”. Internationally, the Bloomberg News agency and the BBC (British public broadcasting) have announced that they are suspending the activity of their journalists, and the American news channel CNN the broadcasting of its programs in Russia.
The new law “seems written to make every freelance journalist a criminal, by mere association, making it impossible to keep any semblance of journalism alive in the country,” said Bloomberg editor John Micklethwait. The BBC will continue to report in Russian from outside the country.
On Friday, media regulator Roskomnadzor also ordered the immediate blocking of Facebook, accusing it of “discriminating” against Russian media such as the Defense Ministry television Zvezda or the Ria Novosti news agency.
The social network in Russia no longer worked without a VPN, and the American group confirmed by lamenting that “millions of ordinary Russians will soon be deprived of reliable information”.
The regulator has also started to “restrict access” to Twitter, but the platform told AFP “not to see any significant difference for the moment” with the access difficulties already encountered for a week.
The authority had previously announced that it had restricted access to the BBC, German international radio and television Deutsche Welle (DW), independent Russian site Meduza (based in Riga, Latvia), Radio Svoboda, Russian branch of RFE/RL , Voice of America and other unnamed news sites.
On site, the independent internet television channel Dojd announced Thursday the suspension of its activity, and the emblematic radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) its dissolution after the blocking of their sites.